Today is the day that Steve starts his daily Dahl podcast. He has been working so hard on the technology and logistics, as have all the people that you know as the radio family. He wants to let the actual content start as a seed and germinate, so I guess I can expect today’s inaugural show to be very casual. I offered to do a practice run with him, but he is a “live” kind of guy. I had a meeting this morning when he was starting to record, so I was not around to measure the chaos/nervousness/happiness quotient. All of a sudden it is real-whatever it is. Phil Rosenthal wrote a nice article in the Tribune today, and it captures the mental processes that have led Steve to do this, as well as the constraints at play. Steve is an experimenter, and I think he likes playing with technology so that he can catch the next wave…whatever that is. He is hoping if he builds it, you will come. Steve has said that the pioneer gets the arrows, and the settlers get the rewards, and at times that has been the case. He was the first to defile the FM bandwidth with pervasive talk: radio purists in the ’70’s were elated that music could be broadcast in stereo, and believed that talk should only occur on the AM side. Steve was like tumbleweed in California, challenging ears to listen to his patter, while station managers fired him to add album cuts to Album Oriented Rock stations. When he tumbled to Detroit, the station that first hired him, WABX, did not know what to make of him.
Detroit was a hard, metal town: with his young voice and silly jokes, they were not sure that he was part of their future. Finding traction and appreciation, he moved in 1977 to W-4. It had a studio in Downtown Detroit, in an old house, with carpet squares and egg crate foam stapled on the ceiling and walls to make it soundproof. Here he added characters, headed outside to do talent shows, integrated me into his show as “Janet Planet, the teacher” and basically moved away from a music focus to a story-telling, joke making morning drive. It was different to have a radio friend reach out, invite you in, play softball against your team. He became phenomenally successful. So successful, in fact, that ABC wanted him out of the market they had heretofore dominated. I was in Law School at night, owned my condo, had a huge family and lots of friends there. Steve would have stayed-for me- but he asked them to give him a raise- not what ABC was offering, but just a little more. Nope. They could throw records on and save money. So off Steve went, to Chicago. ( 3 years later Howard Stern was hired to do mornings there, leaving Hartford Connecticut) There was the same initial resistance in Chicago to his high voice and talkative ways. “If you cannot say it in 60 seconds, it isn’t worth saying” was the mantra. Steve did less than a year before ABC said, “no, thanks” and “guess what, we rigged your contract so you cannot go back to Detroit.” It was bleak, but Steve persevered. The Loop popped up, loved him, Disco Demolitioned with him, started to syndicate him to LA Detroit and Milwaukee, then dropped him like a hot potato for “violating community standards”. ((Howard Stern, by then in Milwaukee, scoffed that syndication was anti local radio- what a difference a few years and millions of dollars makes!) ABC reclaimed him, threw him on the AM side and experienced 5 years of chaos. By then, the Loop had new owners, more guts, and a vision. Steve and Garry had a good run there, until they imploded. Steve was shuffled to AM 1000 Sports Radio with Bruce Wolf, Garry went on the FM before going on his way. Since then, never the twain have met. Steve had 13 great years at WCKG/Package/ but let’s be honest- things are full circle. It is cheaper to court listeners with records. The economics of radio are gruesome, and at this time, there is no slot for the veteran.
A few years ago, network television scoffed at cable. Now networks buy their own cable outlets to target precise demographics. Radio may have had the same response to satellite-“who will pay for what you get free here?” They cheerily carried ads for XM and Sirius. Now radio will be challenged to stay relevant and integrated into daily life. Just as we are glad to time-shift our TV, people will customize their listening experiences. Habit is not as controlling as it once was. What will radio be? Who knows- but the consumers will choose. Time answers these questions.
In the mean time, CBS has afforded Steve the chance to pioneer again. Steve loves to communicate, reach out, find a laugh in the day- and now he will get to. I must admit I am a little jealous, because I have had him all to myself. I think he will be a happier husband with this opportunity to spend time with his first love (ouch). There will be bumps, and bad days- but they will all be worthwhile. He is scouting the future, and I know he would like it if you came along for the ride. You can help him grow this new seed by listening, and then e-mailing to tell him what you want, or miss. It will be a work in progress. You will be in it together, as you always have been. At the end of his “Steve in Exile” period, (22 months from now) there may be seismic changes in the broadcasting landscape. (Hell- Howard Stern may be back in it, constrained by the FCC, but still wanting to talk) There may be a place for Steve in terrestrial radio, and there may not be. For now, there is a place in his heart for his listeners, and a place on your computer or I Pod for you to keep him company. You can be pioneers together. Watch out for the arrows!
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